A new John Gribbin book is always a delight, and he is at his best when exploring the bizarre possibilities of quantum theory. If you aren't familiar with his previous books on the subject, the title here might be worrying as it suggests some fiendish bio-electronic device where collections of unwilling cats are wired into a computer, but in fact it's a follow on from earlier titles In Search of Schrödinger's Cat and Schrödinger's Kittens, where the relevance of the cats to the topic has become increasingly strained.
What we have here is an introduction to the wonderful world of quantum computers. Usefully, Gribbin leads us in through conventional computing, with workmanlike short biographies of Turing and von Neumann to help make the route to understanding what is going on in devices we use every day, but of which we have little comprehension, much clearer. It's good to have a computing history that fully takes into account the British contribution, often sidelined by US work, in part because of the way Churchill unfortunately insisted that most of the UK wartime work be destroyed.
The second section of the book takes us into quantum theory, using Richard Feynman and John Bell as the key biographies, while the third concentrates on quantum computing, leading on the perhaps rather less obviously central character of David Deutsch and taking us through some of the many mechanisms for building a quantum computer that are currently being worked on.
Overall this works very well, and we get a powerful insight into the capabilities of this remarkable technology and the huge challenges that are faced in making it work reliably. To get any idea of how quantum computers work it is necessary to give a good background in quantum theory itself, and this is something that Gribbin can do with one hand tied behind his back.
If I have any criticism it is that some areas are brushed over just a little too lightly - this isn't the book to really get a total low-down on quantum physics as it isn't its central topic. This means that there are a few places were Gribbin effectively says `this happens, but you don't need to understand it.' The only specific topic I do think could have been handled better is the very important concept of decoherence, which (unless I missed it) is introduced without ever explaining what it means. Certainly in the first reference to it in the index it is used as if it is obvious what it's about. Yet in reality it is a subtle concept that is hugely important to the quantum computing business. I really wish there had been a few pages putting this straight.
Overall, without doubt the best book I've read to provide the general reader with an introduction to quantum computers, and given their potential importance in the future, that has to make it a brilliant addition to any popular science enthusiast's shelf.
on 21 December 2015
Reads very well.
This book provides a good overview of the history of classical computers, the development of quantum mechanics, and how quantum computers can overcome some of the limitations faced by classical computers. John Gribbin's style of writing is, as always, very well suited for conveying complex information in a readable and engaging manner.
on 12 September 2013
The first delectable and enlightening exposure I had to a John Gribbin book was "Time and Space", which initiated an array of highly motivated cosmological projects in my grade five and six classrooms. John`s unique style of delivery and connection to students also motivated me to discover more about cosmology and read more books by the author himself. From this experience, John Gribbin and other scientists become a motivating factor in my learning quest of quantum physics and cosmology. I discovered from reading books like In Search of Schrödinger's Cats and Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution that you can expect three things from a John Gribbin literary experience. One is a fascinating and personal look at the characters involved in the science theme. Secondly, John has a wonderful way of articulating the basic scientific skills and theories, to both novices and experts, with a sense of humor and intelligence. Finally, there is always a connection to his other similar science books and when necessary, he reinforces and repeats scientific knowledge so that you can be sure not to experience any loss of scientific continuity. You can feel confident reading a book by a master communicator.
Computing with Quantum Cats links this book with John`s other fascinating books on Quantum Theory that pay homage to Schrödinger's Cat. This book gives you a chronological look at the development of the computer from the father of creative computing and Artificial Intelligence, Alan Turing to the history and beginnings of the Quantum Computer. If you have not read his other books like Schrödinger's Kittens or In Search of Schrödinger's Cats , I suggest you do but if you have not, John will enlighten and delight in teaching you about concepts that include superposition , wave function , the Many World Interpretation , wave-particle duality and entanglement.
Some of the major characters you will encounter will include Alan Turing , who developed computers that were involved in deciphering codes , artificial intelligence, cryptography and who was particularly essential in ending World War 2. You will learn about his tumultuous life through the realistic writing style of the author. This man was one of the most important men in the history of the development of computers. You will be exposed to the computer conceptions of John Von Neumann, though well known for his weaponry development. Richard Fenyman is outlined as a man who had many ideas for the amalgamation of quantum physics and computers with future applications. The idiosyncratic David Deutsch is described as a physicist who wanted to connect the Multiverse, the Many Worlds Interpretation and the quantum computer. There are many more that contribute to this wonderful history that John Gribbin has put together, in what I think is his best book yet.
Finally, you will learn about Quantum Computers and feel comfortable with knowledge that he has outlined with his great communication skills. I discovered , with ease, valuable information on the difference between a bit an a qubit . I learned how entanglement will help us with future forms of communication. I highly recommend this book because, you will not find another book that will give you the history, scientific knowledge and the fascinating biographical background relating to the Quantum Computer. This is the ultimate book on the subject. I can hardly wait for the his next book.
on 4 July 2013
If only Gribbin had been my History teacher when I was at school! Once again his biographical detail renders great scientists and engineers as real people - very special and talented people maybe, but still real and human, with all the quirkiness, emotion and even, possibly, (as we learn) carelessness of we mere mortals.
If only Gribbin has been my Science teacher when I was at school! I won't claim that the book has made me an expert on Quantum Computing (or even, for that matter, Code Breaking and Classical Computing) but it truly has provided, 'food for thought' - thanks to Gribbin I now have some additional handles with which to mentally grasp concepts that many authors would consider too difficult for the minds of ordinary people.
A trademark book for Gribbin - one is entertained throughout and then, afterwards, realises that one has been educated as well. Definitely worth considering as a holiday read ... and I've now got a new (for me) word to casually drop into day-to-day conversation - 'fungible' - quite delicious - I see Rowan Atkinson every time it pops into my head!
Buy it, and discover that you're smarter than you thought you were!